Fiona Buffini’s revival of her sister Moira’s play about the relationship between the Queen and “that bloody woman” Margaret Thatcher occasionally suffers from trying to educate as well as entertain.
First performed in 2010, Handbagged consists of a series of imagined conversations between the pair interspersed with matters of historical record. Zoe Aldrich makes a commanding Mags: she communicates in deep, breathy tones and clearly conveys her disdain through her facial expressions. Melissa Collier is wide-eyed and earnest as Liz, but we see little of the monarch’s reputedly dry sense of humour in her exchanges with Mags.
Older versions of the pair – the smartly attired, handbag-wielding T (Jan Goodman) and Q (Louise Bangay) – watch over the action and question the portrayal of events. Meanwhile, Paul Mundell and Ashley Gerlach draw much laughter as a range of supporting figures, from Denis Thatcher to Neil Kinnock and an adulation-seeking Ronald Reagan.
The action takes places on Olivia du Monceau’s effective set, with its huge golden crown looming above the stage to reflect the monarch’s symbolic power. Subtle changes in Daniella Beattie’s lighting and James Earls-Davis’ sound signal location shifts, and the Brighton hotel bombing is effectively conveyed.
The play’s moments of self-reflexivity are exploited to their fullest under Buffini’s direction, and the timing and synchronicity of the cast are impeccable, particularly when the characters talk over each other and their gestures are mirrored. But, in a play that turns on the difference between internalised thought and what is expressed verbally, sometimes the awkwardness between the two women fails to come across.